Review: "Buying Myself Back: When does a model own her own image?"

Author: Genevieve Redsten


The headlines surrounding Emily Ratajkowski’s New York Magazine essay were titillating, the stuff of clickbait. “Emily Ratajkowski accuses photographer of sexual assault,” several major outlets announced, seeming to promise another shocking #MeToo exposé. But Ratajkowski’s essay itself was much more subtle and introspective than the headlines would suggest — at times even frustratingly opaque. Though Ratajkowski describes a predatory and haunting relationship with an older male photographer, and an ambiguous yet inappropriate sexual encounter with him, at no point does she actually utter the word “assault.” Instead, the model weaves that unsettling memory into a powerful narrative about sex, consent and her ambivalent relationship with a digital world — a world that prizes women with looks like hers but can also envelop them in scandal and humiliation.

Ratajkowski forged her reputation as a sex symbol when she appeared in the music video for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” In the years since, she’s grown famous and wealthy
by commodifying her own sex appeal. Ratajkowski has often described this paradoxical act — becoming an established, powerful woman by appealing to the male gaze — as empowering, a way to reclaim her own body and image. But in “Buying Myself Back,” she complicates this simple narrative of empowerment. As it turns out, Ratjkowksi has long battled with powerful men for control of her own image. Even as she profits from seductive poses and an hourglass figure, she’s fallen victim to the very men she enchants.

Embattled in a legal dispute over lurid photos from her early modeling days, Ratajkowski has learned that reclaiming her sexuality comes with a cost. Even as her image propels her to fame and fortune, she still can’t buy those images back. Ratajkowski raises these uncomfortable contradictions but doesn’t quite answer them. Can an industry that regards women’s bodies as objects truly be “empowering,” per se, for those women? Ratajkowski ends her essay on a hopeful note, but the positivity feels a bit contrived. Regardless, it’s worth a read. Even if you’re left with questions, Ratajkowski’s sure to make you think.